Moving From “Stay Woke” to “Pray Woke” (Part 1)

John McNeill
September 1st, 2020

If the young people in your youth ministry are like the ones I serve, then they have an opinion about issues that have prompted protest in their community and throughout the world. 

If the young people in your youth ministry are like the ones I serve, they feel like the Church should do something to speak to and confront the injustice in their community and throughout the world. 

If the young people in your ministry are like the ones I serve, then some have already participated in social and community activities, with or without you.

This has compelled many, self-included, to search the Bible, and modern Christian experiences, for answers, patterns and blind spots.  Although many are not called to participate in a public protest or to withhold support towards  a business and its practices, the question remains, how does one lead or guide others who are discerning if to get involved, when to get in involved, and how to get involved.  

The day for me came when I could no longer put off equipping the young people I serve with the current justice issues swirling and had to focus on how to prepare them for the potential opposition or dynamics that they may encounter.  

Was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Woke?

Did you know that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was “woke?” To be “woke” in our generation generally means to be conscious of social issues or injustices that occasionally prompt pursuit or engagement related to the cause. Admittedly, Dr. King was a conscious generational leader on the cutting edge of change for social injustices, and so much more. His last Sunday sermon preached on March 31, 1968, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, was entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”

The main idea of his sermon was that to be woke meant that believers in Christ would develop new attitudes or new mental responses to appropriately engage the changing times or “revolution.”

Hear the similarity between Dr. King’s definition and the one we have now.  Pastor Angus Dunn wrote in, The Saving Person, that “persons see the world properly once they have encountered and accepted Jesus Christ.” This too is the light that Paul spoke of in Ephesians 5.  An encounter with Jesus Christ should change how you see the world and what justice movements you engage. God’s light illumines the dark areas of our lives and lights our way forward. 

What, When and How to Support

Justice issues can at times appear ubiquitous.  Occasions or opportunities to engage justice issues seem to emerge daily. A good friend of mine often states; “There’s a cause on every corner.” For example, support to Go Fund Me, sparing extra change to someone in need, or your signature petitioning a change. Regardless of our personal desire, we ought not give prayerless, unconscious, automatic support of anything. But we all, my dear friend included, should strive to do and be in the will and way of God.

Christian leaders—parents, guardians and youth workers included—are faced with the overwhelming, sometimes elusive, decision of what organization to support, when to support, and how to support. 

Black Lives Matter…perhaps?

Women’s March…perhaps?

March for Our Lives…perhaps?

Poor Peoples Campaign…perhaps? 

There’s no absolute or sweeping statement about which cause you should take up each time because God’s timing should always be considered.  However, May I suggest we evaluate each organization and its movement priorities by asking, “Does the organization’s values or members’ ideas align with the timing of God, the message of Holy Scripture and the mission of your local church?” 

Pray Woke

With the wisdom of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Youth Ministry leaders and adult spiritual guides at First Mount Zion Baptist Church, Woodbridge, VA, discerned the focus for the Fall 2019 – Spring 2020 Youth Ministry theme would be “Transformers.” The goal focused on equipping young people to be change agents for Christ in the world. 

Subsequently, the annual prayer dinner in December 2019, titled “Pray Woke” allowed the youth to examine the prayer life of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and the necessity of prayer within a justice movement. 

Our human vision could not have predicted what would happen in Spring 2020. However, its  timing was impeccable given the current protests and advocacy that resulted from the challenging incidents surrounding George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now Jacob Blake. 

As you discern what causes for justice to pursue, I would encourage you to “Pray Woke” instead of “Stay Woke.”  Prayer is communication with God that requires both speaking and listening.

Regardless of the cause or the justice issue, keep your ear to God’s mouth and listen to what God is saying at every turn and at every step along the way.  

John McNeill

John C. McNeill, Jr. is a transformational leader, gifted preacher and creative teacher with a heart for and a keen understanding of 21 Century cultural trends and young people. John presently serves as Youth Minister at the First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries, VA and Staff Consultant with Ministry Architects. With more than 20 years of experience in church-wide ministry and family ministry, He is notably a trained Pro-reconciliation Anti-racism facilitator.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.